Supplement Feature - April 2020
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Playgrounds That Pop

Building a Better Playground

By Rick Dandes

Be Multigenerational

Whether a community is looking for an inclusive play area, a fitness park or small playground for a pocket park, one thing that comes up again and again is the idea of making sure it is a place all generations can interact with one another, Callison said.

"I recently toured about 20 playgrounds across the country, from Southern Alabama to Eastern Washington," he said, "and there was an interesting thing I observed at every location: Parents are playing with their children more than ever. There was a study by Professor Tanya Byron in (August) 2010 in which she learned about 20% of parents had 'forgotten how to play.' A decade ago, most so-called millennials weren't yet parents. But today, most of the adults I saw on the playground with children were part of the millennial generation. They actively engaged in climbing, sliding, spinning and just enjoying a moment of play."

Designing a playground today, Callison suggests, "has to include ways for parents to get involved. Find activities that encourage parents and children to play together. There are many products and design features you can add to a play space to encourage this kind of multigenerational activity. As more parents engage in play, we need to find ways to make sure they do. I'd like to see the number of engaged parents go up instead of down."

Be Inclusive

Inclusivity is also a growing commitment by parks and rec departments and other providers when it comes to playgrounds. Families with children with disabilities have asked for support, and parks and rec departments want to work to include elements in their playgrounds that suit children of all abilities.

According to Lisa Annis, marketing ninja for a Minneapolis-based builder of custom playgrounds, playgrounds have been required to meet ADA requirements for many years. However, those requirements are very basic and translate to a sea of ramps on a traditional post-and-platform playground.

"We look to design environments that not only allow access to children with disabilities, but that also challenge them in play and encourage play between children with and without disabilities," she said. "A design environment might include climbers that are transferable by wheelchair and that take children with disabilities to new heights, quiet areas positioned away from high traffic for children with autism, slides built to resist electrostatic discharge (ESD) for children with cochlear devices and transitional colors and textures for children with visual impairments."

Todd Lehman, founder, owner and self-described 'design guy' at the same Minneapolis-based company, said the biggest challenge he sees with an inclusive playground "is to not have it look like it is just a sea of ramps. We work hard not to hide ramps, but to work them seamlessly into the overall design. The idea is to bring children of all abilities together, not to separate them."

A good example of that kind of playground design thinking is Casey's Clubhouse, in Boyce Mayview Park, Upper St. Clair, Pa., near Pittsburgh. The playground features custom aluminum fabricated slides safe for children with cochlear implants, equipment to address walking impairments, multiple educational and musical elements including a baseball bat metallophone, transfer-accessible climbers and wheelchair-accessible play at higher elevations. The Clubhouse also has several elements to address children with visual impairments such as transition colors to indicate changes in elevation and steps as well as embossed 3-D discovery finds in a large majority of the play equipment.

"Inclusivity is certainly a trend we hope is more than a trend and becomes a standard approach for play design," Lisiecki said. "We've also experienced a return to bringing a sense of adventure and age-appropriate risk-taking to the play space," such as with towers that create a climbing and sliding experience that is adventurous, developmentally rich and gives kids a way to challenge themselves.